Activists Battle Bush Assault on California Green Laws

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California, the state with the nation's toughest environmental laws and regulations, faces an attack on all fronts from the Bush administration, according to the state's conservation activists and leaders.

From undermining the Golden State's recent legislation on reducing harmful greenhouse gas emissions to changing forest management practices in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, long-time environmental experts say the Bush White House is undertaking an unusually ambitious campaign that will undermine California's ability to protect its environment.

Recent federal policy changes and administration interventions within the nation's most populous state demonstrate "a dangerous hostility to the very idea of environmental stewardship," Sierra Club president Carl Pope, told NCR. "Anyone who shares the broad national consensus that this country is committed to protecting its citizens from easily avoidable risks from polluted air, contaminated water or reckless toxic waste dumping should be deeply concerned."

The deepest fear, many say, is that if the administration's initiatives are successful here, they will take hold in other areas of the country. In fact, the Natural Resources Defense Council, a national environmental advocacy group, just released its annual report, titled "Rewriting the Rules: The Bush Administration's Assault on the Environment," which details continuing environmental retreats nationwide by the Bush administration over the past year (see related story).

California's environmentalists tick off a list of recent moves within their state:

* The administration is driving for an extension of off-shore oil drilling rights in California's southern coastal waters. The state had declared its coastal waters off-limits to new oil wells, yet the U.S. Interior Department wants to extend 36 oil and gas leases without requiring oil companies to seek review and approval under the state's federally approved coastal zone management program.

A destructive oil spill in 1969 in off-shore waters of Santa Barbara inaugurated California's determined, decades-long drive to protect its shores, its inland waters and forests. Preserving the ban on off-platform Democrat or Republican, anywhere in the state for the last 30 years. Bush's Interior Department wants to help reverse this solidly green trend in the Golden State, critics say.

* At the same time the White House seems to be pushing to overturn a Clinton-era management plan for the national forests of the Sierra Nevada, replacing a conservation-based approach with one that would accelerate logging, according to reports that appeared in late January in The Sacramento Bee, the Los Angeles Times and the San Francisco Chronicle.

Recently announced plans indicate that the U.S. Forest Service will allow "thinning" in the state's national forests, which add up to 10 percent of the nation's public forests. In a shift in how forests are managed across California, the service is preparing to let timber companies log more "medium-sized" trees from 11 million acres.

California Regional Forester Jack Blackwell contends the extra logging activity and revenues will help speed clearing of brush and small saplings that have fueled huge wildfires over the last 10 years. Conservationists say that this brush is the result of extensive logging that took place in the 1980s," and that a return to logging will further increase fire dangers. They threaten to sue if current plans develop into action.

Blackwell is being praised by the timber industry, which has seen logging decline in the state's national forests by 90 percent in the last decade.

* California is home to giant sequoia trees, the world's largest living things. California's state tree, they occur nowhere else on earth. The U.S. Forest Service, with the blessing of the Bush administration, also plans to put logging up front in its plans for the future of California's Sequoia National Monument (see related story). …